How Hurricane Maria Affected Children

Puerto Rico has already chosen statehood out of the three possible status options (independence, statehood, and continuing as a territory). Congress must take the next step and vote to accept Puerto Rico as a state.

Members of Congress have a lot on their minds. They have people in their home districts with ideas, problems, and dreams. Puerto Rico has no senators and no voting members in Congress. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon has Puerto Rico at the top of her mind, of course, but she has no vote.

No one with a vote in Congress has Puerto Rico top of mind. Click To Tweet

That means that we — people in Puerto Rico and in the states — have to make sure that Congress pays attention. We have to make sure that Congress understands why statehood will make a difference. We have to make sure that our friends and family understand why they should help Congress understand.

Do it for the kids

A new study on the effect of Hurricane Maria on the children of Puerto Rico shows that most of the Island’s kids had traumatic experiences.

The Guardian reports

  • 47.5% of children’s family’s homes were damaged
  • 83.9% of children saw homes that had been damaged
  • 24% of kids actually had to help rescue people
  • 25.5% of kids experienced evacuation
  • 32% of kids experienced shortages of  food or water or both
  • 16.7% of children lived without electricity for five to nine months

Researchers surveyed nearly 100,000 schoolkids across the islands 5-9 months after the hurricane, and identified those who had high levels of exposure to traumatic events such as those listed above. They also asked all the children questions designed to find signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression. They were able to conclude that kids with higher levels of exposure to traumatic incidents also showed higher levels of PTSD and depression.

The results weren’t surprising. But many readers will be surprised at the high levels of exposure to traumatic events.

The researchers told the Guardian that their work pointed out the need for counseling among kids in Puerto Rico — a need much greater than the number of counselors available. They also expressed the importance of preparation for disasters of this kind in the area of mental health support for children.

Would statehood make a difference?

More than half of the kids surveyed had seen a friend or family leave the Island. Did this happen to children in Florida? 16.7% of the kids were still living without electricity when they were called, even though the calls took place five to nine months after the hurricane. Did that happen in Texas? Almost a third of the children went without basic food and water. Does that happen in any state after a disaster?

The Centers for Disease Control recognize the danger of psychological damage in children after a disaster. They offer suggestions to parents at their website. They recommend reaching out to counselors. They don’t say, “…unless there aren’t enough counselors to go around.” There are enough counselors in states.

56% of Puerto Rican children live in poverty, compared with 18% of children in the United States as a whole.

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. There is only one reason that the children of Puerto Rico have much harder lives than the children in the states: Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory.

Congress should know

Members of Congress often respond to stories about individual experiences. Do you have a story to share? Tell your legislators why you care about statehood for Puerto Rico. Tell your friends and family that you need them to reach out to their legislators, too.

 

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